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John Reed Swanton Recordings Collection


Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

Cylinders 1683-1686, 1687-1690. Three copies

Cylinders 1691-1694, 1695-1716. Three copies. Sound quality poor to audible.

Cylinders 1719-1624, 1725-1729. Three copies. Sound quality good.

Cylinders 1730-1734, 1739-1742. Three copies.

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John Reed Swanton Recordings Collection | Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

By Zachary R. Jones, Archivist

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Collection Overview

Title: John Reed Swanton Recordings CollectionAdd to your cart.

ID: MC/046

Primary Creator: Swanton, John Reed (1873-1958)

Other Creators: Deikeenáak’w

Extent: 4.0 Items

Date Acquired: 01/12/2006

Subjects: Tlingit Indians--History., Tlingit language.

Languages: Tlingit

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection contains copies of the fieldwork recordings made by anthropologist John Reed Swanton (1873-1958) at Sitka, Alaska between January and March of 1904 when he interviewed Tlingit Indians for his academic research. These recordings primarily contain Tlingit songs sung by Daalwools’ées (Donald Cameron) (1871-1938) (Kaagwaantaan clan) and Deikeenáak’w (John Morris) (Kaagwaantaan clan, Kóok Hít), portions of which were published and transcribed by Swanton in his Tlingit Myths and Texts. These songs, the vast bulk by Deikeenáak’w, speak about many Tlingit clans and their history and culture. The audio for these recordings were recorded on a gramophone an early recording devise, with the original wax cylinders surving and in the possession of the Library of Congress.

After his time in Southeast Alaska Swanton returned to the Lower 48 and continued his work for the Bureau of American Ethnology. The recordings he made in Sitka, which survived to be placed in an archive, amounted to 32 wax cylinders. The content from these cylinders are now available and condensed onto 4 CDs as part of this collection. These audio recordings are some of the oldest surviving audio recordings of Tlingit language. While the audio quality on some of the recordings is poor, some recordings are very audible.

The original recordings made by Swanton are held by the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, This collection also contains paper copies of metadata (content descriptive information) compiled by the American Folklife Center, which details the content of these recordings. This metadata information is provided in this collection, but spellings and content may not be entirely accurate and need revision.

For further background, Swanton, an employee of the Bureau of American Ethnology, came to Southeast Alaska to study the Tlingit in the spring of 1904, largely the first American anthropologist to do so and publish on the Tlingit, though anthropologist Franz Boas and George T. Emmons were beginning to study the Tlingit. While in Southeast Alaska in the spring of 1904 Swanton visited both Sitka and Wrangell, documenting Tlingit oral literature, the Tlingit language, and Tlingit culture. He published a number of essays on the Tlingit, a small ethnography entitled Social Condition, Beliefs, and Linguistic Relationship of the Tlingit Indians in 1908, and then Tlingit Myths and Texts in 1909 which contained abbreviated versions of Tlingit oral narratives in English and full oral narratives with both the Tlingit and English provided.

Swanton offered little explanation about his fieldwork process and informants, but some information is known. At Sitka Daalwools’ées served as Swanton’s cultural informant and interpreter that helped Swanton connect with Tlingit elders who would speak about Tlingit culture. Of those interviewed at Sitka, Swanton later published two stories in Tlingit Myths and Texts from Sitka born Kályaan (Kiks.ádi clan), one story from Yakutat born K’áadasteen (Kwaashk’i Kwáan clan), some from Daalwools’ées, and then the bulk of stories from Deikeenáak’w. At Wrangell Swanton spent most of his time working with Tlingit elders Kaadashaan (John Kadashan) (Kaasx’gweidí Clan) (1834-1914), his mother Léek, and an individual Swanton identified only as “old Kake man” named “Kasa’nk.”


SHI cannot make copies of these recordings without the permission of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.


John R. Swanton, Tlingit Myths and Texts (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1909).

Judith A. Gray, The Federal Cylinder Project: A Guide to Field Cylinder Collections in Federal Agencies (Washington, DC: American Folklife Center, 1988): 259-274.

Zachary R. Jones, “Haa Daat Akawshixít, He wrote about us”; Contextualizing Anthropologist John R. Swanton’s Fieldwork and Writings on the Tlingit, 1904-1908,” Presented at the Sharing Our Knowledge: A Conference of Tlingit Tribes & Clans, Juneau, AK, Nov. 2013.

Biographical Note

John R. Swanton was an anthropologist, PhD from Harvard University, that conducted fieldwork and study among Native American Indian tribes across the United States. On the Northwest Coast he conducted extensive work among the Haida and some work among the Tlingit, authoring books about the oral traditions and cultures of the Tlingit and Haida.

Subject/Index Terms

Tlingit Indians--History.
Tlingit language.

Administrative Information

Repository: Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

Access Restrictions: Restrictions: These recordings can be listened to by SHI patrons, but we cannot make copies of these recordings, since the originals are held by the Library of Congress.

Use Restrictions: Intellectual Properties Note: Since SHI adheres to the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, and since we desire to honor Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian traditional cultural belief that clans retain the intellectual property rights to clan stories or songs, patrons who use or study clan songs or stories are asked to credit clan ownership to stories and songs.

Acquisition Source: Kenneth H. Lea

Acquisition Method: The material in the collection was donated to SHI on January 12, 2006 by Kenneth H. Lea, who obtained the copies from the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Item:

[Item 1: Cylinders 1683-1686, 1687-1690. Three copies],
[Item 2: Cylinders 1691-1694, 1695-1716. Three copies. Sound quality poor to audible.],
[Item 3: Cylinders 1719-1624, 1725-1729. Three copies. Sound quality good.],
[Item 4: Cylinders 1730-1734, 1739-1742. Three copies.],

Item 4: Cylinders 1730-1734, 1739-1742. Three copies.Add to your cart.

Cylinder 1730; AFS # 21,253:6; length 5:12. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by one of the Kaagwaantaan called Yuwak [#44--p. 400].

[2:54] Composed by Little-lake-up-above (Cukusa-yi) of the Lenedi [L’eeneidí Clan?] [#36--p. 398].

Cylinder 1731; AFS # 21,253:7; length 5:37. Attributed to Deinaku.

[:181 Composed by one of the Kiks.ádi named Dead  Raven (Naviyel). There vas a second part to this which the writer’s informant had forgotten. [#37--p. 3981.

[2:01] Composed by For-a-town spirit (An-de-yek) of the Llenedi about the T’aq’dentan, because when the latter came to Juneau to drink they did not pay any attention to the Auk people [#45--p. 400].

Notes: The texted portion of the songs is unclear, so the song identifications assigned on the basis of the box labels have not been confirmed. Surface noise; muffled, sometimes distorted sound. Tracking problems and sound skips. 1) begins abruptly.

Cylinder 1732; AFS # 21,253:8; length 6:19. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by a Nanyaayi named Kakasguxo, about Kack’alk and Lq’ayakl, referring to the time when they strove to cross the Stikine and were turned to stone. This is a mourning song, therefore a long cane is used when it is sung [#79--pp. 409-10].

[3:50] Composed by Man-who-obeeys (Q’ayax qoste) of the Kaagwaantaan about his son who was drowned coming down Chilkat river [#80--p. 410].

Notes: Surface noise and muffled sound. Tracking problems. Several spoken words at the end of 2). Engineer identifies this as cylinder "XXVII." "XXVII" is found on the box lid, but "XXXIV" appear8 on the side of the box; the program matches the songs found on XXXIV. [MS]: 1) "Sister turned them into stone by looking at them while menstruating."

Cylinder 1733; AFS # 21,253:9; length 6:31. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by one of the Luknaax.ádi named Nawutsin, probably from the jerking of coho when dying [#39--pp. 398-99].

[3:25] Composed by Kakayek of the Kaagwaantaan [#40--p. 399].

Cylinder 1734; AFS # unassigned; length unlisted. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by Little Raven (Yeik), one of the Prince of Wales Island people (Tant’a Kwáan) about Sexdagwetl of the Lienedi, who had previously gotten the best of him (see song #50) [#60--pp. 404-5].

Composed by Kaqatucutc of the Kaagwaantaan when his father and his' uncle died [#78--p. 409].

Cylinder 1739; AFS # 21,254:4; length 6:11. Attributed to Deinaku.

This is sung by all the Kaagwaantaan when a person's body is being burned, the first part during the burning itself and the second part while the women are dancing around the fire, wearing ear pendants [#70--p. 407].

Cylinder 1741; AFS # 21,254:6; length 4:22. Attributed to Deinaku.




Notes: Audibility of the recording is poor.

Cylinder 1742; AFS # 21,254:7; length 5:11. Attributed to Deinaku.




Notes: Audibility of the recording is fair to poor.

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